All dressed up with few places left to go ...

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The Independent Online
Like Baby Doc Duvalier of Haiti and General Manuel Noriega of Panama before her, Miss World treks from continent to continent as a refugee in search of a friendly home.

A 45-year-old who has known better times, she arrives in each new port clutching her baggage of swimsuits and slingbacks and provokes an inevitable outcry.

Born in England in 1951, Miss World once wore her crown with pride. Then came the revolution of political correctness and her palace was destroyed. She was cast out and denounced as anachronistic, self-indulgent and tasteless.

"In reverse order ..." are the famous words of Eric Morley - who with his wife Julia created the contest - as the winner is crowned, and the international beauty pageant is indeed in retreat. Until recently she was based in Bophuthatswana where she attracted controversy by posing for photographs in poverty-stricken villages as part of Operation Hunger.

This year, she has moved on to Bangalore, where she has united right- wing politicians with feminist groups in their anger at the perceived slur on their culture that she represents.

Tomorrow, as Miss World preens herself at a sumptuous event at the Chinnaswamy cricket club, groups of Indian women are planning to set light to themselves in protest. One man in a southern Indian city has already burnt himself alive while shouting anti-Miss World slogans.

According to Julia Morley, Miss World is not interested in the political arena. But that has not stopped her becoming embroiled in endless international incidents over apartheid, world hunger, divorce, unmarried motherhood and the Jewish-Arab peace accord. Now she has apparently undermined the morals of an entire subcontinent.

Eric Morley was a publicity salesman for Mecca Dancing when he dreamed up the Miss World formula for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The contest spent 18 years at the Lyceum, Aldwych, 20 years at the Royal Albert Hall, and a brief spell at the Palladium before leaving London to go into exile in 1990. Since then Miss World has been like a former West End star performing at the end of the pier.

Yet the Morleys are not unhappy. In the glory days, Miss World would take to the stage for next to nothing, content with the adoration of her public watching the live coverage beamed round the globe by the BBC. But she has become increasingly commercial. Satellite channels will pay good money for the rights to film the event which once attracted a British audience of 27.5 million. International airlines sponsor the contest and businesses are encouraged to turn it into an international trade fair. This year there will be a worldwide audience of 2.5 billion.

But Miss World is running out of safe havens. As the English feminists flour-bombed her in 1972, so their Indian sisters have turned on her in 1996. She will not get involved, say her creators. She is not interested in politics or controversies. So where will she head next? Iran?

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